I imagine that if a top school releases its acceptances earlier than its competing colleges, that would be a significant psychological impetus for an applicant to enroll, since that acceptance would be his or her first. You know the old marketing saying: It’s better to be first than it is to be better. Accordingly, if a college sent out its acceptances first, before other schools, that could very well appear also to be “better” in the eyes of eager applicants. However, most savvy applicants wait until they have all their acceptance eggs in one basket, so to speak, before they make their enrollment decision.
In the world of college admissions, can there be too much of a good thing? Sometimes. If you’re a high school senior who applied to college this year, as I mentioned above, you will know in a month or so (mid-to-late March) who has accepted you (and, unfortunately, who hasn’t). Some of you may even get into every school where you applied. If so, congratulations in advance!
Having a pile of acceptance letters from schools you like can pose a problem. It’s a happy problem, to be sure, but a difficulty nonetheless.
Perhaps you’ll gain admission to your clear, first-choice college in March. Maybe, in your pile of acceptance letters, there will be one that suits you perfectly, making all the others unnecessary. If so, no problem.
What should you do, though, if you have three or four acceptances and none is a clear favorite?
This happens more frequently than you might imagine. The solution to finding the right one lies in doing some careful review and consultation with your family. If considerations such as location, student body size, program offerings, and reputation are all about equal (and you detect no true preference stirring in your heart), then money has to be a major consideration. Financial aid packages arrive with the acceptance letters (or at least they should). Examine them carefully. Ignore the “sticker price” of the schools for a moment and go straight to the bottom line.
Which school’s offer puts the smallest drain on your family’s finances? Is there a clear winner now? Also, don’t forget to look very carefully at the student loans that are included in those packages. First-year financial aid packages tend to be the best that you’ll see over the next four or five years, so try to do a projection to see what your total indebtedness might be at graduation. You certainly don’t need $50-100K in loan debt at the end of your undergraduate degree program. In any event, if there’s no other criterion for deciding, then money should help you decide. Don’t forget that you can sometimes earn extra financial aid with just a phone call to the college’s financial aid office, providing more detailed information about your family’s financial situation. After you have satisfied yourself that you have the best-possible packages, then decide.
Remember, too, that you can make a quick visit between your acceptance notification and May 1, the traditional enrollment response deadline. Visits can sometimes sway the undecided. Please keep your parents involved in your decision. They maintain a large stake in your college education. Although most parents respect their child’s decision on college selection, they can also provide valuable perspective for that decision.
In a related aspect of college-choice decision making, what about those of you high school juniors (or even sophomores) who are still in the “college shopping” mode? Which schools are on your list and how are you going about evaluating them? The search for the ideal school can be a real challenge.
The old Christmas song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” has a lyric that says “He’s makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice.” When it comes to college selection, high schoolers need to make their list and check it twice.
For you juniors who are considering a four-year college, it’s time to do some thinking. You may never have thought of yourself as a “consumer” about college matters. Perhaps to you, consumers are those people who buy laundry detergent and then give their opinion to some telephone survey person.
Not so fast, future frosh. This is where informed decision making becomes crucial. Above, I have addressed the issue of money (and loans) as a consideration for choosing and attending college. As you may have noted, money should be only one of your considerations. Deal with it after you address some other important criteria.
When you ask yourself what you want from a college, don’t be shy. What do you really want? Do you want a school that has a beautiful campus in a secluded part of the country or one that is in the heart of a big city? Are the school’s prestige and reputation important to you? Can you define what level of academics you prefer in your chosen area of concentration? How far from home do you want to be?
Will teaching assistants (TAs) instructing some of your classes satisfy you or do you want senior faculty teaching you? How about access to that faculty? Will your school have professors who are approachable in situations beyond office hours? How about student body size? How about the weather? Are you getting the picture here?
There are many considerations. You are the one who should make the call, though. So what are you waiting for? Get out paper and pencil right now and write down what is truly in your heart about college. Even if you have never set foot on a college campus, you may have an ideal stored away in your dreams. Write it down. As time goes on and thoughts occur to you, keep adding to your list.
By Thanksgiving this year, juniors, you should have quite a detailed summary of what you want from a college. Then it will be up to you to find some matches for your candidate list that will form the nucleus for your college search. Your research should come from guide books, campus visits, and your own honest reactions. Of course, don’t forget the Web’s best resource for college search and evaluation: College Confidential’s SuperMatch. If you can state what you really want from a college, you’ll find that there are any number of candidates out there waiting for you with open arms.
No matter where you end up going to college, compliment yourself on a search, evaluation, and admission process well done!
Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.